Free school meals for all primary school children in London to continue if Sadiq Khan wins third mayoral term

Sadiq Khan effectively fired the starting gun on his re-election campaign on Tuesday by announcing that he will continue to provide free school meals to all London primary school children if he wins a third mayoral term.

Mr Khan launched the policy – which funds about 1.4m free school meals a week - last September as an “emergency” one-year initiative to help ease the cost of living crisis.

But it has proved “phenomenally positive” with parents – prompting Mr Khan, who received means-tested free school meals as a child, to make the “lifeline” a central plank of his 2024 mayoral manifesto.

He said: “Delivering free school meals has been one of my proudest moments as mayor as I have seen the difference it has made to the children receiving them and to their families.

“I know from personal experience what a difference these meals can make and it’s been fantastic to hear from teachers how much better children are performing and also how much parents and their children have benefited, with parents not having to worry about how to provide their children with a healthy, nutritious meal during the school day.”

Prior to the mayor’s initiative, pupils in school years three to six only received free school meals if they lived in households on universal credit and earning less than £7,400 a year, though several London boroughs did offer universal free school meals.

Mr Khan said he would continue the initiative throughout the 2024/25 school year, at a cost to City Hall of £140m.

His Tory mayoral rival Susan Hall has vowed to continue the scheme “until the cost of living situation improves” if she becomes mayor next May.

All 1,900 state primary schools in the capital are taking part in the scheme, benefiting up to 287,000 children a day.

More than 17m free meals had been provided by Christmas. City Hall estimates that parents will save more than £500 a year per child from September.

It will increase the amount it provides councils for each meal from £2.65 to £3.

Polling for City Hall has found that 35 per cent of parents or carers are buying less food due to the cost of living crisis, with 30 per cent saying they were struggling financially.

A report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Education Union found that free school meals eased the financial worry of parents and improved the health and concentration of pupils, while also removing the stigma of means-tested meals.

TV chef Tom Kerridge, who has campaigned for free school meals, said: “This is great news for so many parents feeling the pressure from the cost-of-living crisis. No child should go hungry because their parents cannot afford to buy them lunch.

“This latest announcement from the Mayor of London will reduce the burden on parents and carers across the capital, hit hard by rising costs, it is really good news.”

Fellow TV chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver said: "Huge kudos to Sadiq Khan for extending free school meals across London for another academic year.

“Not only will it help families make ends meet, but evidence proves that children having access to delicious, nutritious food at school is the foundation of their wellbeing and educational success. It’s more than just nourishing their bodies – it's a fundamental support system that significantly impacts their future.”

Mr Khan had previously come under pressure to confirm free school meals would be continued for more than a year.

He was able to include the policy in his annual budget for the 12 months from April, which relies upon income from business rates, after securing sufficient Government funding for wider City Hall services.

Nikita Sinclair, of the Impact on Urban Health, said the Government should make school meals free across the country.

She said: "Free school meals remain a key way to ensure all children receive the nutrition they need to learn and thrive in school, and to support households under financial pressure."